A couple of years ago, Jim Grossestreuer gave his wife JoAnne, age 65, a Christmas gift she’d been wanting for a long time… Cosmetic dental work.
Although he knew it wouldn’t be inexpensive, Jim, age 68, says he wasn’t anticipating the cost estimated by their Houston-area dentist.
“When JoAnne gave me the estimate—$ 19,000 for eight veneers, which was just a portion of what she wanted—I was shocked. I felt bad, but I had to renege on my promise.”
Jim knew there had to be a less expensive alternative, but he wasn’t sure what it was. He and JoAnne knew people that had traveled to Mexico and other countries for medical and dental procedures, but it wasn’t until the couple visited Costa Rica last year that the pieces fell into place.
“I had been interested in Costa Rica as an investment opportunity since our first visit there in 2019,” he says. “When International Living hosted their Fast Track Costa Rica Conference in San José in 2022, we signed up to attend. One of the exhibitors at that event was the Prisma Dental group. My wife chatted with their representatives and after further independent research, we decided we would schedule JoAnne’s dental work on our next return to Costa Rica, in January of this year.”
Jim and JoAnne also had an ulterior motive. They wanted to see a bit more of Costa Rica… experience some of the places they learned about at the conference.
“We planned a beach getaway and shared a condo with friends near Playas del Coco in Guanacaste for several days. And then we spent some more time at an all-inclusive resort before heading to San José for JoAnne’s dental appointment,” Jim says.
“I had made an appointment for what I considered a ‘damage estimate’—a basic appraisal and cost estimate to upgrade my own smile at the same time.
“Based on the quote, JoAnne ended up getting her full mouth done… and not with veneers, which are easily damaged and can even pop off, but with zirconium crowns. And when I saw the pricing for my partial replacement—eight uppers and eight lowers—I decided to join in, too.”
Costa Rica has state-of-the-art dental services.
Both procedures were completed in three visits to the clinic in a single week.
“On Monday we showed up in the morning,” Jim says, “and after about four or five hours we were leaving the office with ‘temporaries.’ Dr. Telma Rubenstein (one of the owners) and Dr. Carolina Nuñez did our work. They both speak fluent English as did most everyone we met in Costa Rica.
“Since our next appointment was not until Thursday, we opted to drive north about 1.5 hours to the Peace Lodge, a beautiful resort some friends had recommended. Thursday morning, we drove back to San José and had our new ‘permanent’ teeth installed. This took about three hours. Overall, our experience was excellent, with great pain management and no discomfort. Friday morning, we went in for a final 30-minute checkup and we were done. Off to the airport for our return home.”
And in case you’re wondering about the quality of care, that was never a question, Jim says.
“Certainly it was comparable to what I would have expected in Houston,” he says. “Prisma has top-notch, state-of-the-art equipment and they do their own lab work on-site. My wife is a retired medical professional, and she gives the care she received two thumbs up.
So how much did all this cost? “The two of us together was less than the $19K we were quoted in Texas to replace just a portion of JoAnne’s smile,” says Jim. “We basically got a free vacation—and two great smiles in the deal!”
Why Does Dental Care Cost Less Overseas?
Close to the U.S., Mexico and Costa Rica are the most popular destinations for dental work. Over in Europe, Hungary and Turkey are top choices, as is Thailand in Southeast Asia.
Despite the fact that dentists in other countries typically have similar quality facilities (and often train or take advanced courses in the U.S., Europe, and beyond) and they use the same techniques and materials, the primary reasons for their lower rates are simple: the cost of living and running a business just costs less.
Salaries (for both doctors and staff) are lower. Lab costs are lower, too, as are office rentals and maintenance. The cost to attend dental school is less, and dentists rarely graduate with tremendous debt that needs to be paid off.
And then there’s malpractice insurance. In the U.S., it can cost more than $100,000 a year. In overseas markets, it’s either non-existent or can be as low as $4,000 a year.
Prisma Dental owner Dr. Telma Rubenstein says that in Costa Rica, “There is no such thing as malpractice insurance. And that’s a major advantage because we don’t have to pass that cost along to patients. We do, though, have a licensing association that acts as mediator. If we do wrong, they take our license away. If the doctor is in the right, it protects us from wrongful lawsuits.”
Of course, she adds, “We work with high-quality materials that give us confidence we’re delivering excellent treatment. And we always back up and stand by our work. For instance, if a crown breaks within a period of time it shouldn’t have when the patient is chewing or biting normally, we assume full responsibility. We always follow up with patients after they’ve left the clinic to be sure they’re satisfied.”
Here are some sample prices for dental work in Costa Rica:
- Clinical examination: $37
- General cleaning: starts at $89
- Cavity filling: starts at $79
- Root canal: starts at $385
- Crowns and bridges: start at $450
- Implants: start at $1,500 per tooth
- Dentures: start at $500
The cost of healthcare overseas truly is a fraction of what you’ll pay in the U.S. With deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses on the rise, it’s no wonder that the number of Americans seeking medical treatment abroad increased by more than 80% in the pre-pandemic decade, according to the American Journal of Medicine. And those numbers continue to rise today, with the most common procedures including fertility and cancer treatments, cosmetic surgery, organ and tissue transplants, and dental care, according to the CDC.
Dental tourism is especially on the rise. More than 77 million Americans—particularly those 65 and older—do not have dental insurance, and for those that do, anything more than basic care is rarely covered. Plus, as industry experts report, dental care prices in the U.S. are going up.
Many of the most reputable dental clinics overseas offer an array of services. If you have insurance, they’ll help you fill out claim forms for reimbursement, assist with your in-country accommodation, and more. “In San José we stayed at a nearby hotel recommended by Prisma Dental, and got great room rates they had arranged,” says Jim Grossestreuer.
Tips for Choosing an Overseas Medical Provider
Before you consider traveling outside your home country for a medical procedure, do some basic research and due diligence, and don’t make decisions based on price alone. Here’s how to prepare:
- While they’ll likely try to discourage you, it can be a good idea to see your healthcare provider at home in advance to discuss your plans and ensure they are willing to assist with any follow-up care you might need.
- Although not as necessary for dental procedures, consider buying traveler’s health insurance that will cover medical evacuation if needed.
- This should go without saying but be sure the doctor and staff speak English. Call and speak to them by phone.
- Ask if they accept credit cards or how payment is handled.
- Stick with accredited facilities. If you’re traveling for dental work, be sure the dentist is board certified and a member of the American Dental Association or the International Association of Cosmetic Dentists.
For other types of medical care, look for hospitals that are accredited by Joint Commission International (JCI). There are more than 1,000 JCI hospitals around the world, and they all follow standards that assure good hygiene practices as well as industry standard pre- and post-operative care. You can find board-certified plastic surgeons internationally here.
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